Metaverse vs. Data Privacy: A Clash of the Titans?


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It could very well be another “clash of the titans” when the upcoming metaverse — as we understand it now — meets data privacy. The metaverse aims to collect new, unknown personal information, even to the point of noticing and analyzing where your eyes go on a screen and how long you stare at certain products. Data privacy, on the other hand, aims to protect consumers from this incessant cherry-picking.

That, friends, describes the upcoming battle in the future world of collecting new personal preference information, and companies are already planning to monetize this potential bonanza for themselves. Rest assured that in the new online economy of the future, there will be many new startups lining up on both sides.

“When you talk about virtual or augmented reality (AR), it’s all about information as power,” said David Nuti, senior VP for North America Channel at Nord Security, an international online security provider. “They don’t create these platforms to feel good about bringing people together. They mine information that is sold to provide you with content relevant to what you love to do.

“For example, if I’m in an augmented reality environment, a company might want to show me an ad for a bank because in my augmented environment they can see that my sofa is a little ragged in the background. Through artificial intelligence, they will present me a color of a new sofa that matches the paint on the wall of my house. When I serve an ad, I no longer know that I’m serving the advertiser to the person, but how long my eyes are on that content.”

Map your eye movements on the screen

The value of those few seconds on screen for advertisers cannot be overstated. The question is, should companies leverage the analytics from that long glance at the new phone you’re considering buying, or a new Peloton you admire? If you’re saying this is an exaggerated invasion of personal space, accept it: that plane took off from the runway a long time ago. This will all depend on whether a user wants to enter the metaverse at all.

Today, January 28, is international Data Privacy Day, which hopes to highlight the upcoming battle within a specific, though random, 24-hour period. A recent study from NordVPN As many as 87% of Americans revealed significant privacy concerns if Facebook succeeds in creating its proposed metaverse. In fact, half of Americans fear it will be too easy for hackers to impersonate others in this brave and daring new world, threatening the privacy of personal information on an unstoppable basis.

This is mostly fear of the unknown at the moment, given that in the same survey, 55% of Americans had never heard of the metaverse, let alone knew what it entailed. In fact, only 14% of those surveyed said they could explain the metaverse to someone else.

Let’s go back a bit and define these terms. Metaverse is the term Meta’s (Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg forced onto the world last October. At a high level, it means the mixing of the real and the digital world, so that it becomes difficult to distinguish the reality from the unreality. In this new setting, personal avatars are expected to multiply rapidly.

Zuckerberg introduced the metaverse and even produced a video explaining what it will look like – a stunt that famously received mixed reviews. He called the metaverse “an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.” Imagine being able to meet your friends from all over the world in virtual reality, discuss business with partners without leaving your office, or access fantasy worlds you’ve always dreamed of. That’s what Zuckerberg has in mind.

Advertisers and online merchants – not to mention Meta itself – have different ideas about this.

Some other data points from the NordVPN study:

47% do not trust that their identities are protected by law 45% fear that even more data could be collected and used against them43% are concerned about not being sure of the identities of others41% think it will be difficult to identify their protect their real identities from their metaverse identities37% fear that their transactions will not be very secure. After describing the metaverse to respondents, 66% said they believe the metaverse can replace social media as we currently know and use it.

What is biometrically derived data?

Kavya Pearlman, founder of the XR Safety Initiativea nonprofit that advocates for the ethical development of immersive technologies, told VentureBeat that “privacy is all about collecting data. Because there is a huge amount of data [that will be harvested], you can’t have the convergence of these environments. That’s what I’m most concerned about.

“This is all about biometrically derived data now,” Pearlman said. “Our data privacy laws need to be updated because they are inadequate. This massive eye-tracking, tracking the way you move, the way you walk — all this analytics — can deduce a lot of information about you. And then there are the intersections of these other technologies, which is like a brain-computer interface that will at some point deliver the alpha, beta, gamma — and even your thoughts. What happens to privacy if our minds aren’t even protected?”

All of this information — stacked in cloud storage and constantly analyzed by multiple buyers — could give companies a better ability to understand individual traits, Pearlman said. For example, an insurance company may see a behavioral cue that infers a customer’s health problem before the person notices anything. “Now the data is in inference,” Pearlman said.

A common denominator about all this that our sources agree on is that this is just the beginning of a new phase of commerce and socialization on the Internet. As time and technology progress, the results of the success of data privacy policies, software and hardware will become apparent. The other point that everyone agrees on is that national, international and local laws and regulations are lagging far behind technological advances, as they have for decades.

Some other varying perspectives on the coming battle between data privacy and the metaverse:

Peter Evans, CEO of Patriot One Technologies: We don’t expect data privacy or security issues to go away with the metaverse. As an industry, we see repeated examples where technology goes far beyond security, data privacy and good governance… and the world’s zeal to play with new and interesting things and use it for business advantage, competitive advantage and profit.

All the issues we’ve seen in the press recently about Facebook’s use of data to drive marketing and revenue are examples of a marketing opportunity that anticipates good governance, security, and protection.

This has been going on for more than 20 years, going back to the initial introduction of the Internet, online banking and e-commerce, AI and facial recognition, etc.

We see these issues repeating over and over again, with governments and data privacy often lagging behind. By the time the world opens its eyes to the data privacy issues, it will be too late as the horse has left the stable. With each new iteration of innovation, we see an order of magnitude leap in both business benefits and the complexity of data privacy issues. I expect we will see the same with the metavers.

Ben Brook, CEO of transcend, a provider of data privacy software: In the beginning, the metaverse can actually be good for privacy, because people can adopt anonymous avatars. But over time, as we spend more time in the metaverse and our avatar becomes a bigger part of our lives (in a sense we become our avatars and we shop like it, we consume content like it, and we form relationships like it ), the same privacy principles apply.

It’s too early to say what specific safeguards will be needed as usage evolves, but the reality is we’re not starting with the most solid foundation. In many jurisdictions, consumers don’t yet have the protections they need for today, let alone the metaverse and the myriad of new ways their data can be used (and misused) tomorrow.

More data means advertisers have a significantly richer closet to mine for much deeper targeting, often using the same platforms that speak loudest about the metaverse’s potential.

David Blonder, Senior Director, Legal Counsel, Regulatory and Privacy and Data Protection Officer at BlackBerry: With the metaverse and the creation of a hybrid reality, it’s important to remember one simple truth: people will trade security for convenience. The metaverse will see significantly more user interaction than a cell phone. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that it would collect a lot more information and also attract a lot more attackers. For security in the metaverse to succeed, it must be implemented in a way that is robust without negatively impacting the ease of use.

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